The cavernous Skoda Octavia is our current compact estate car champ. Boasting a vast boot, roomy interior and plenty of practical touches, this sensible model offers exceptional versatility. It’s based on the same platform as the Golf Estate and uses the same engines, so it’ll be a close match for the newcomer. The car in our pictures is an Octavia SE, but we’re testing the higher-spec Elegance model.
It goes head-to-head with the likes of the Ford Focus Estate and Vauxhall Astra Sports Tourer, but its biggest competition could well come from the forthcoming new VW Golf Estate and SEAT Leon ST, as they both use the same lightweight platform and efficient engine line-up as the Skoda. The Kia Cee'd Sportswagon is also a worthy rival.
For a small premium over the already spacious Octavia hatchback, the estate offers even more space, sharper looks and the option of four-wheel drive on the two diesel models. There are three trim levels to choose from, but even entry-level S models come well-equipped. SE and Elegance versions add luxuries like satellite-navigation, dual-zone climate control and leather upholstery. An ultra-efficient GreenLine version will go on sale in October, boasting C02 emissions of just 87g/km, while high-performance vRS models will also be released this year.
Our choice: Octavia Estate 2.0 TDI SE
Like the company’s larger Superb, the Octavia looks better as an estate than a hatchback. But the combination of right angles and straight edges means it’s handsome rather than pretty. And while it may not be as eye-catching as the SEAT Leon ST or as daring as the Honda Civic Tourer, the well proportioned Skoda has plenty of upmarket appeal, even in mid-range SE specification.
Surprisingly, the Octavia Estate is exactly the same length as the hatch (4,659mm), but the estate-car styling means the long rear overhang doesn’t look anywhere near as awkward as it does on the five-door. The only other difference between hatch and estate is the addition of black roof rails – although you can upgrade them to silver rails for £150.
The SE model comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, which seem a little lost in the arches. The 10-spoke 17-inch wheels supplied with Elegance versions are smarter.
Inside, the Octavia is pretty solid, but unspectacular. There’s plenty of dark grey plastic trim, yet it’s lifted a little by the gloss- black finish surrounding the radio, and extra silver trim around the gearlever and doors.
As it uses the same chassis as the Leon ST and VW Golf Estate, you’d expect the Octavia to feel similar on the move. Yet there are some key differences when you get behind the wheel. For starters, the 104bhp 1.6-litre TDI engine isn’t as well insulated - there’s a distinct diesel rattle at idle, and it sounds more strained when you accelerate, too.
The Skoda features a five-speed manual gearbox with long ratios for improved efficiency. In the real world, that transmission means you need to work the Skoda hard, but the positive shift action lessens the strain.
The Octavia comes with a Driver Profile system, which adjusts engine and steering response according to which mode you’ve selected (Eco, Normal, Sport or Individual). Yet it doesn’t get a front differential, so it’s not really eager to turn in. Even so, the naturally weighted steering, decent grip and strong brakes give the Skoda composed and confidence-inspiring handling.
When you’re taking it easy, it’s clear that the Skoda’s suspension isn’t quite as well isolated as its rivals’. Like the Honda, VW and SEAT, the car suffers from a firm ride that softens at higher speeds, yet it still transmits too many noisy bumps and thumps into the cabin.
The Skoda is a relatively new car, but there should be no concerns about its long-term durability. Its platform forms the basis of many VW Group cars, while the 1.6-litre TDI engine is tried and tested.
You also get excellent dealer back-up from Skoda –the brand consistently impresses in our Driver Power satisfaction surveys.
Euro NCAP awarded the Octavia hatchback a five-star crash-test rating, and standard safety kit includes post-collision braking, which will automatically apply the brakes after a crash to stop the car moving in the event of a secondary impact. Driver fatigue and tyre-pressure monitors feature, too.
The Octavia no longer leads the way for boot space in this class, but its 610-litre capacity will be more than enough for most buyers. However, fold the 60:40 split rear bench flat and the space increases to 1,740 litres.
The Octavia has a step in the floor behind the seats, so you don’t get a totally flat load area. For £150, you can add an optional variable load floor, which removes any obstacles and creates handy underfloor storage. The load bay is also packed with useful hooks and cubbies, seatback release levers and a 12V socket.
Elsewhere in the Octavia’s cabin, you’ll find plenty of useful storage, including an air-conditioned glovebox, deep door bins and a handy cubby in front of the gearlever.
In the back, there’s a folding centre armest with a pair of cup-holders. Better still, rear passengers get loads of head and legroom.
The Octavia Elegance with the DSG gearbox is just a tenner more than the equivalent Golf SE. However, the Skoda comes with more equipment, including climate control, voice- activated Bluetooth and rear parking sensors – adding just the latter two items bumps up the Golf’s price by £1,140.
Both cars have a decent range of options, although the Skoda manages to trump the VW once again here, as its extras are slightly cheaper. Tax costs for the automatic models are identical, but the manual Octavia emits just 99g/km of CO2, putting it in lower private and company car tax brackets.
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